Yesterday was a frustrating one for me, for various reasons. Within about an hour of chapel beginning, I was probably at my most cranky point. But I headed over to chapel (later than I've done all semester), in order to prepare the space for our worship service.
After setting out the hymnals and preparing the communion table with the green cloth I use each week (never the same way twice, though), I felt overwhelmingly that I wanted to bring something in from the outside.
I walked out the door of the chapel and looked about me. I thought of maybe some branches off a tree, or some flowers I might find... then I saw a charlie-brown ginkgo tree just off to the side of the chapel. It had shed a number of its bright, gold leaves and they had blanketed the ground around it. I collected a good handful and put them by the bulletins (which I always set on a table at the entryway). I also put some more on the communion table on top of the green cloth and under the candle, already burning. But then I turned around and saw this long stretch of bright red carpet along the the aisle...
I went back out with a student. I took off my jacket and we started to fill my jacket with gold leaves. As we reentered the chapel, the president of the seminary looked at me curiously: "I saw you out there loading leaves in your jacket..."
I laughed. "Wait til you see what we do with them!"
Then we proceeded to strew them all along the aisle - from back to front. The bright gold against that deep red was something!
It was fun, then, to watch people come in and blink! The prayer of invocation we prayed together ended up asking God to help us see God in unexpected ways: in the strange and familiar. Then the sermon was on the feeling of "in-betweeness."
I thought about how the leaves made our space an in-between space: not outside, not inside. And Autumn being an in-between season: not Summer, not Winter but carrying us between the two. For me, the leaves began to generate meaning.
My favorite part was directly after the service, first the two of us who had brought in the leaves (and made the mess in the first place!) started collecting them into baskets. Then, little by little, more and more people--from the students to the dean--were down on our hands and knees collecting leaves! There was so much laughter and marveling going on down there on the floor of the chapel that it was certainly a continuation of the worship service from my perspective.
Part of my role as the director of chapel is to use the chapel experience to teach students. I've been trying to do this subtly, by showing the kinds of things that are possible in worship. At our community dinner afterwards, one of our students asked me about the leaves. She is Korean and still struggles to express herself in English, which made our conversation all the more beautiful to me. She asked me about the meaning of the leaves. I talked about the meaning I had found in them, but suggested that others might have made different meanings. She smiled, and said: "I liked it. They were beautiful!"
Another student admitted that she hadn't noticed the leaves at all until partway through the service. And she said she couldn't figure out then if they'd been there when she had walked in, or if someone had walked through as part of the service and scattered them, or if they'd been there every week and she simply had never noticed before! She was one of the ones who got down on the floor to pick up the leaves, laughing delightedly. It occurred to me that the leaves had called her into presence in worship in a way she had not expected. They were familiar things in an unfamiliar place--and they had caused her to notice. There is gift in that.
By the time the service was over, the frustrations of my day had melted away. My spirit had been able to come to a resting point. And I'd been reminded of the joy that can be found in community, especially a community that dares to worship together.